The case of the silent witnesses and the lawyer’s wig

Recently my island of green which lies off the coast of the Wakefield city centre has been transformed.  Trees have released their leafy loads from the summer skies to form a mosaic of colours and shapes on the landing fields of autumn.  Together with being a visual treat there are also the unmistakable sounds, which keep in step as we walk through deep layers of fallen leaves.  This year this is amplified by a mass percussion section of snapping and crunching acorns under foot.  Many will be taken by jays and other wildlife.  Some will soon start to germinate to provide future generations of the nation’s favourite tree the oak.  The leaves will be collected by a silent army of worms and other allies.  Taken to underground bunkers to help form and improve tomorrow’s soil.

Another silent witness is the field maple, which has suddenly come forward to show its autumn glories.  In summer the leaves get their colour from a green pigment called chlorophyll.  In autumn as the leaves die the chemical balance of this and other pigments changes to expose the beautiful yellows and golds.  The attached photo shows a single leaf still attached to a tree at Brandy Carr.  A small to medium size tree and hedgerow shrub the field maple is our only native maple.  It is a most valuable landscape and wildlife tree. The early flowers are a timely source of nectar and pollen for insects.  Aphids feed on the leaves that in turn attract bluetits and other birds, together with insects such as hoverflies and ladybirds.  In addition the seeds are eaten by small mammals.  Also, the timber is prized by wood-turners and carvers.

field maple at Brandy Carr

Yesterday during my local walk I noticed my silent witnesses have coincidentally arrived with the emergence of a fungus called Lawyer’s Wig.  In part this may be because when young the shaggy white scales on the cap of the fungus may resemble a lawyer’s wig .  Also, it is perhaps more commonly known as shaggy ink cap and the attached photo show the fungus growing in a grass verge at Carr Gate.  It shows the cap of the fruiting body is beginning to self-digest quickly dissolving into a blacky inky slime.  Indeed, during the 17th and 18th centuries it is believed the liquid may have been used for making legal documents and bank notes, because the lack of any fungal spores may otherwise have suggested a forgery.

shaggy ink cap at Carr Gate

shaggy ink cap at Carr Gate

Getting Ready for Summer

The Corvid-19 outbreak lockdown rules have recently been relaxed.  Even so at the moment I continue to be loyal to my local walks all taken within one and half or so miles from home rather than travelling further away.  This has now become a very familiar landscape to me, but it is beginning to show signs it is ready to change and leave spring behind.  The pristine fresh green tree leaves are now more sombre with many sycamore covered with ‘honeydew’ a sticky substance excreted by feeding aphids.  The tiny caterpillars of moths blown in the wind abseil down from the tops of oak trees on fragile silken threads like miniature SAS commandos.  All these insects are a timely food source for hungry young birds and their exhausted parents.  Similarly, the yellow fields of oil seed rape are fading fast turning their energy to the job of seed production.  Even so their narrow field margins remain a refuge for some wildflowers to shine especially flaming red poppies.  Photo attached.  Elsewhere yellow is intensifying around paddocks full of buttercups and young rabbits.

poppy and oil seed rape

poppy and oil seed rape

9.rabbit and buttercups

9.rabbit and buttercups

On the 11 May I reported the progress of the small tortoiseshell butterflies caterpillars that have transformed the garden patch of nettles into their dining room.  They continue to devour their host plant leaving only a skeleton.  It is a reminder they will soon start to pupate and then emerge to announce a changing of the guards and summer has arrived.

small tortoiseshell caterpillars

small tortoiseshell caterpillars